Monday, June 1, 2015

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, 2007

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Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.
Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

(314 pages)

I'm in a reviewing slump, because I haven't read anything I cared enough about to review lately. So what do I do when I need to have a review up in two days? I turn to my old favorites and choose one I know like the back of my hand. I haven't read Princess Academy in a long time, but it really doesn't matter because I've read it so many times that I could review it in my sleep. I won't, though - I'm wide awake right now, I promise!

Why do I love Princess Academy so much? Part of it comes from exposure, I guess. I read it for the first time when I was seven, and fell in love with just about everything about it: the mountain, the "magic," the ending. The main reason I love Princess Academy, though, isn't just exposure to it at an early age - it's the story, and the characters, and the setting, and just about everything else. 

I love Miri for her sense of humor, her intelligence, her strength . . . and her weakness. Miri feels inferior to the other villagers because she is small and physically weak, and her father won't let her work in the stone quarry with the majority of her neighbors. Growing up on the outskirts of the quarry, spending her days with the young, the old, and the physically handicapped who can't work in the quarry, Miri has developed a sort of inferiority complex. She hides her insecurities and her loneliness by cracking jokes and teasing others, hiding herself so completely behind a facade of lightheartedness and confidence that no one suspects how unsure of herself Miri really is. I love watching Miri throughout the book as she learns not only how to read and write (though those are obviously important too!), but also how to believe in herself and to positively affect the people around her.

I also love the other characters. Peder, Britta, Esa, Frid, Knut, Lars, even Olana - they all have unique personalities, unique motives for acting the way they do, unique reactions to the formation of the Academy. Britta is my personal favorite because she begins as a minor character but becomes more and more prominent as the book goes on. Her story deserves a novel all to itself! I also love Peder for the whole childhood frienship/loyalty thing between him and Miri, and I love Katar for what makes her so desperate to win the prince's heart. Steffan is one of my favorite characters because he's more than just a cartoon-prince only good for acting as the author's trump card in the princess competition (like, "I want XYZ to marry the prince, so Steffan picks her even though that wouldn't make an sense!").

This review is becoming too long, so I'm just going to stop. I could keep going, though, listing off every single character in the book and why I love them. I could also talk about the Heidi-esque setting, and the awesome side-plot about linder (which is the stone they quarry), and the theme of familial love that runs strong through the veins of Princess Academy. Instead I'll simply summarize the rest of my review like this: It's one of my favorite books. Ever. And you need to read it.

And if you already have read it? Read it again. Then (though this is less urgent) read the sequels - here's a link to my review of the third book in the series, The Forgotten Sisters.

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